Knowledge development (KD) is globally recognized as a key cultural component of any great company. In its annual report, the World Economic Forum identified “the ability to learn” as one of the most important skills to acquire in the digital age.

To succeed in any industry and prepare to participate in its continuing evolution, you must adopt habits and practices that empower lifelong learning. Whether you’re a new associate or an experienced manager, this behavior is necessary to help your company stay relevant. Gone are the days of a job for a life. Upskilling ourselves is now a permanent feature of our work.

What does it mean for a company to create a knowledge development department that strategically aligns the training function with your organization’s goals? How can you make sure learning is essential, meaningful and accessible to everyone?

The Workforce of the Future

In literature, there are two main catalysts for almost every decision made by a knowledge development leader: the half-life of a skill and the skill mismatch.

The half-life of a skill refers to the period of time a skill is innovated, flourishes and then becomes irrelevant. In a few years, that valuable skill you gained in school or in the workplace is half as valuable as it was when you acquired it.

To stay relevant and to build the workforce of the future, a cutting-edge company has four solutions:

  • Reskilling: Raising the skill capacity of current employees by teaching them new or qualitatively different skills.
  • Redeployment: Redeploying workers with specific skills to make better use of the skill capacity already available to them.
  • Hiring: Acquiring individuals or entire teams with required skillsets.
  • Contractors: Leveraging contractors, temporary employees or freelancers from outside the organization to cover immediate needs

Regardless of cost, it’s a good practice to retrain employees and retain your talent. Those who receive the necessary training are able to perform their jobs more efficiently. The question is no longer, “Where do employees find the time to learn something new?,” bur rather, “How do we integrate our to-learn and to-do lists?”

Alternatively, the skill mismatch is the discrepancy between the skills sought by employers and the skills possessed by individuals.

A new report by Boston Consulting Group highlights that a skills mismatch is imposing a 6% annual tax on the global economy in lost labor productivity. According to the report, the skills mismatch is the key barrier to human capital development. In order to realize the full potential of human capital and fix the global skills mismatch, workers must learn continuously. They must maintain their performance throughout ongoing technological change and be trained for activities that do not yet exist. In turn, employees also need to take responsibility for their own professional development.

To make it happen, companies must rethink the way education is designed and delivered, change mindsets accordingly and implement a knowledge-sharing culture. However, learning leaders often place too much focus on creating great training events and not enough on creating a culture that supports employees’ learning.

Knowledge Development Framework

I have developed a simple framework that provides guidance not only for the measurement of skill gaps, but also for the implementation of an ecosystem to ensure the broadest possible access to training opportunities. The knowledge development framework involves three phases:

1. Job description: The KD leader works closely with their human resources business partner to create clarity around the talent strategy, the career framework, and the job description of existing and desired roles.

2. Skill map: The KD leader partners with senior leaders to create a skill map. For each competency area, clarify the level of knowledge expected in each department and role.

3. Skill self-assessment survey:  The KD leader, human resources business partner and the leadership team promote a voluntary survey in which associates are asked to reflect and comment on their level of knowledge across a range of skills.

The steps enable KD leaders to define learning strategies and instill continuous transformation in their workforces.

Comparing the expectation with the reality will help quantify and assess talent gaps and provide guidance on prioritizing the learning agenda. For instance, if a team is expected to be experts on machine learning, but everyone is a beginner, this skill gap should be addressed as soon as possible.

The skill self-assessment survey also helps leadership easily identify and leverage internal experts to facilitate tacit and explicit knowledge sharing. Courses created and maintained by employees will foster cultural change. Curiosity and knowledge transfer are at the heart of building a strong culture of learning.

With this framework, you should be able to identify whether you have skill gaps. Now, how can you proceed to ensure the broadest possible access to training opportunities and set up an infrastructure for upskilling and reskilling?

Creating a Knowledge Repository

The KD department must be responsible for the creation and maintenance of a knowledge repository that serves as a one-stop shop for employee development. This will ensure that you are consistent in the way you are educating your employees.

This catalog must contain learning resources, presentation decks, recordings, job aids and case studies to help employees in their development journey. If you’re partnering with an external learning provider, everything should be embedded in the same career path. Avoid fragmentation to create clarity.

The recommendation is to divide your offering into four sections:

1. Company onboarding: It’s the perfect time to tell stories about your organization’s history, values, people and vision for the future. Usually, this section will take new employees through their first week in your company, and help them understand the company culture and how you operate.

2. Department onboarding: Consider a tenured team member transitioning to a new team. Changing departments is comparable to starting a new job in a new company. As a person gets started in a new group, they must begin with a refreshed understanding of the organization and their basic skills and knowledge. This offer will comprise foundational knowledge across competencies.

3. Career-path competencies: Once the foundation is set, the KD leader needs to work with internal experts, identified through the skill self-assessment survey, to create and maintain pathways for each area of expertise required across departments.

Ideally, each pathway consists of cumulative levels that bring the learner from “skill awareness” to “skill expertise.” Those pathways can comprise self-learning options, live webinars, books, job aids and other forms of content. Be sure to identify the boundary conditions for approaches rather than portraying each approach as the sole solution.

It’s important to remember that synchronous learning experiences, such as virtual or in-person master classes, should complement the regular training agenda. These experiences offer associates the opportunity to receive immediate feedback from the experts, build their network and share their knowledge. Associates need to authentic activities and adequate practice in order to apply new skills and knowledge to their jobs.

Nudge your learners to put their learning into practice when they return to work. The ecosystem of support that surrounds a learner before and after training has more effect on knowledge transfer than any traditional approach to training delivery.

4. Talent accelerator programs: Define future roles and set up an infrastructure for upskilling and reskilling. These programs help prioritize focuses on hard and soft skills, facilitate internal movement, and scale-up employee transitions. Talent programs are designed to enable the most ambitious, curious and bold associates to become the next generation of global business leaders by providing relevant learning experiences. Such programs also offer the opportunity to close the divide between under-represented communities in current teams, especially leadership. As such, they contribute significantly to a company’s diversity and inclusion agenda.

Creating a Learning Culture

The ultimate goal of knowledge development is to help organizations and employees achieve their goals. For that to happen, creating a culture that encourages employees to continuously learn – and the infrastructure to support that learning – is crucial. And, never forget, recognizing and drawing attention to successes in knowledge development is critical for the future of the practice. Learning professionals should be adept at attracting learners to what they’re offering.

If you follow the above recommendations, your knowledge development strategy will be solid and robust. You will gain the support of the leadership team and serve as a voice in and resource for your organization.